Is It Illegal to Drink Your Own Alcohol on an Airplane?

Sep 18, 2017

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“Reader Questions” are answered twice a week — Mondays and Fridays — by TPG Senior Writer Julian Mark Kheel.

Nervous flyers — and plenty of other folks as well — enjoy having a drink or two while they’re in the air. But alcohol can cost a pretty penny on an airplane, so TPG reader Thomas sent us a Facebook message asking if it’s true that you can’t bring your own hooch with you…

On my Frontier flight from Denver to Mexico today, the crew made an announcement stating that federal law prohibits the consumption of alcohol that passengers bring on board. Do you know what law this is? Also, would it be enforceable once we were in Mexican airspace?

TPG Reader Thomas

There’s a valid debate as to how much people should be able to drink on airplanes, and who should determine that amount. With so many inflight incidents occurring with unruly passengers — many of them under the influence — it’s important for a flight crew to be able to keep control of the cabin at all times.

That’s at least the theory behind the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) regulations regarding onboard alcohol consumption, which appear in the Federal Register at 14 CFR 121.575. As the very first line of that section notes…

§ 121.575 Alcoholic beverages.

(a) No person may drink any alcoholic beverage aboard an aircraft unless the certificate holder operating the aircraft has served that beverage to him.

So, yes, it is in fact illegal to drink your own alcohol on an airplane, and since Frontier is a registered US air carrier, it’s required to obey FAA regulations at all times, regardless of whose airspace it’s in. That means even when flying over Mexico or any other country, you still can’t start drinking your own moonshine on Frontier or any other US airline.

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You’ll have to rely on your flight attendants when it comes to drinking alcohol on board.

But hang on, because “drinking” and “bringing on board with you” are two completely separate things, and just because you can’t drink your spirits doesn’t mean you can’t bring them onto an airplane.

For alcohol you bring in your carry-on, the TSA’s rules on liquids in general come into play, so you’re limited to bottles that are no more than 3.4 ounces in capacity each. But you aren’t limited to just one bottle. In fact, according to the TSA

Travelers may carry as many 3.4 ounce bottles of liquid (mini bottles of liquor are 1.7 ounces) that fit comfortably in one, quart sized, clear plastic, zip-top bag. Comfortable means that the bag will seal without busting at the seams. One bag is permitted per passenger.

That’s potentially useful if you’ve got a bagful of tiny airplane-sized bottles, but that’s probably unlikely. Fortunately you’ve got a lot more leeway in checked baggage

Travelers may take up to five liters of alcohol with alcohol content between 24% and 70% per person as checked luggage if it’s packaged in a sealable bottle or flask. Alcoholic beverages with less than 24% alcohol content are not subject to hazardous materials regulations.

And then there’s the unique situation of duty-free alcohol purchases. Since you’re already post-security when you buy duty-free bottles of the sweet sauce, you’re not limited to carrying just 3.4 ounce bottles onboard. However, it’s important to keep two other restrictions in mind. First, you will need to declare upon landing any alcohol beyond one liter for personal use (and be aware that any amount beyond a case may trigger customs to consider you as a commercial importer).

SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 10: A TSA employee searches the luggage of a United Airlines passenger at a security checkpoint at San Francisco International Airport August 10, 2006 in San Francisco, California. The Department of Homeland Security raised the terrorism alert to Red, the highest level, for commercial flights from Britain to the United States. The U.S. government banned all liquids and gels from flights effective immediately. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
If you’re on a connecting international itinerary, duty free purchases over 3.8 ounces can’t be carried on the domestic legs.

Second, if your arrival point in the US is not your final destination, you’ll end up back under TSA rules for the connecting flight and won’t be able to bring anything more than 3.4 ounce bottles into the cabin, which means any duty-free purchases will have to go back into your checked luggage. Since in most cases you collect your bags after an international flight and then recheck them, it wouldn’t be impossible to put the bottles in your luggage at that point, but don’t forget to do it before you hand your bags back over or you’ll end up losing Grandpa’s cough syrup.

With all that said, it’s always possible you’ll have a flight crew that doesn’t care if you want to drink your own alcohol. On TPG’s recent Egypt Air flight from New York (JFK) to Cairo, Egypt (CAI), he and his father asked a flight attendant if it was okay to drink beers they had brought along — her response was “I couldn’t care less. Do what you want.” So as with all things in travel, your mileage may vary, but you should know the rules in advance and not expect an exception, even if you might end up getting one.

And finally, there’s one airline that has figured out a way to use all of these rules to benefit its customers. JetBlue will allow you to drink your own alcohol on board, as long as you present it to them first so they can serve it to you, thereby adhering to FAA regulations. So, Thomas, now you’ll know who to make your carrier of choice if you’re looking to keep the cost of imbibing to a minimum. Thanks for the question, and if you’re a TPG reader who’d like us to answer a question of your own, tweet us at @thepointsguy, message us on Facebook or email us at

Featured image by Getty Images.

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